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Some Implications of Jean Piaget’s Theory for the Education of Young Children

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Part of the Topicsin Cognitive Development book series (TOPCOGDEV)


In his studies of the developing intellect throughout the evolution of his model, Piaget has clung to certain principles, many of which reflect his biological interests. His faith in these principles has been substantiated by his own research and that of his Genevan colleagues, most notably that of Barbël Inhelder. The many replications of his work in this country and Canada have also provided substantial support for his position. It is these principles that will be presented, since they are essential to those working with the development of intellectual skills. However, just as the total model cannot be presented within the limits of this paper, neither can all of the principles. Thus, applying the criterion of value to educators of young children, I have selected the following:

  1. 1.

    All development is hierarchical, that is, we must all go through the same stages in the same sequence, moving from the simple to the complex.

  2. 2.

    Early learning is slower than later learning, although the rate at which we progress through a given stage is a function of an interaction between our environment and our genetic endowment. By genetic endowment. Piaget means a healthy organism and not of specific genetic programming, as is the mode today.

  3. 3.

    Development is divided into four general stages or phases, with a gradual transition from one to another. Each of the four stages is characterized by modes of learning and thinking unique to that stage.

  4. 4.

    Because of the hierarchical nature of Piaget’s theory, thought and intelligence are rooted in the actions of the sensorimotor period, the first of the four stages of cognitive development. Thus, for Piaget, thought and intelligence are internalized actions.

  5. 5.

    Throughout all of the stages, two “cognitive functions” are present that are invariant. These are organization and adaptation. The former is involved in the categorization of sensory data. The latter is comprised of assimilation, the taking in of new information, and accommodation, the adjusting of the existing knowledge to the new information.

  6. 6.

    The result of the above invariant or unchanging functions is what Piaget refers to as “cognitive structures.” The cognitive structures are formed actively by each individual and contain all of the information that he has assimilated and accommodated or is in the process of adapting.

  7. 7.

    The cognitive structures result in behaviors from which the content of the structures can be inferred. Therefore, Piaget refers to such responses as “cognitive content.” Since the cognitive structures vary in content from individual to individual according to personal experiences and level of maturation, the behaviors or cognitive content vary accordingly.

  8. 8.

    As a result of the above, Piaget concludes that innate factors, environment, social transmission, and equilibration all play roles in what we know and in how we use our knowledge. For him, equilibration consists of the processes of equilibrium and disequilibrium which are in relative balance at all maturational levels, motivating us not only to assimilate and accommodate within stages but also to move from one stage to another. It is the disequilibrium that motivates us to learn and the return to equilibrium that leaves us at a higher level of learning.


  • Cognitive Structure
  • Preoperational Stage
  • Genetic Endowment
  • Magical Thought
  • Early Childhood Education Program

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© 1977 Plenum Press, New York

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Macomber, L.P. (1977). Some Implications of Jean Piaget’s Theory for the Education of Young Children. In: Appel, M.H., Goldberg, L.S. (eds) Topics in Cognitive Development. Topicsin Cognitive Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

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